On Rogue-likes

I picked up Torchlight II as part of the Steam summer sale (ah, yes, that was a while back), and I immediately reinstalled Titan Quest. Titan Quest is probably my favorite Rogue-like of all time, so has become a benchmark of how I think about them. Now that I’ve played Torchlight II a bit, I thought I would take a stab at some of the things that I like about various Rogue-likes, in particular: Diablo II (with Lord of Destruction), Titan Quest (with Immortal Throne), Torchlight II, and Path of Exile.


When I started thinking about all the things I liked and disliked about various rogue-likes, I noted that there were a number of things that appeared to be staples of the genera. So, before I get into any specifics about a particular game, I thought it prudent to talk about those things.

What I like:

The thing that I like the most from rogue-likes is the ability to play single player or multi-player without much (if any) difference in game play. This goes hand-in-hand with the multi-player being cooperative, and generally non-disruptive. I can certainly appreciate pre-separated loot (so that everyone gets a fair chance at goodies) as this tends to cut down on vacuuming, but so long as the game is friendly, I don’t mind too much either way.

The other main piece of a good rogue-like is the story. While I don’t feel the need for a specific story necessarily, the linear, guided gameplay keeps me involved from start to finish, without having to remember specific details. In this way, these games can keep me coming back to play them even after months of doing something else, which is probably why I buy more rogue-likes than RPGs these days.

What bugs me:

I don’t have a lot of gripes about rogue-likes, but the main thing that bugs me is that most rogue-likes are way too level focused for my tastes. Items require a specific level to use, monsters have levels, skills come at level breaks, which typically take longer and longer to get… …This sort of reward scenario has always bothered me. I typically compare this to Guild Wars, where the level cap is level 20, and this doesn’t take much time to achieve.

The second thing that usually comes up with rogue-likes is the ability to change your skills around (respec). This bothers me because not only do I change my mind about how I want to play the game, but also it’s sometimes too easy to get “trapped” with a bad build. The usual argument against respeccing (“just create a new character”) never really appealed to me because I like playing one character, even if certain styles change. Rolling an alt always broke continuity and character for me.

Diablo II

While I see Titan Quest as the standard to which I compare other Rogue-likes, the Diablo series really kicked off the genre for me. I played a Rogue in Diablo (loved the bows) and usually an Assassin in Diablo II. I really enjoyed the powering up mechanic and the dual-claw builds of the Assassin, as it provided a tempo to play by – once you get rolling, you just keep going until it’s all dead.

What I like most:

When I think about Diablo II, the first thing that comes to mind is the visual mood of the game. The horror style, and the details in the areas really do it for me. While I can’t really say the game is pretty, it certainly delivered on the moods of fantasy horror.

What I dislike the most:

The thing that annoys me the most in Diablo II is the lack of ability to respec. I found this particularly troubling once I had gotten to Nightmare with my first Assassin. By the time I had gotten to Act V, I was stuck with my build, and I simply couldn’t kill the statue bosses. Being unable to progress due to choices made early in the game, I feel is poor design. While I grok that not every build should be viable, getting stuck is never fun.

Titan Quest

As I mentioned, Titan Quest is really the standard for which I compare rogue-likes. It handles gracefully my main gripe of the genre, by making respeccing easy and not too expensive. It’s dual-class system is really neat, and allows a nice variety of skills without penalizing the secondary class any. My main characters were a Magician (Earth/Rogue, focusing on massive weapon damage) and a Prophet (Storm/Dream, focusing on AOE damage and party buffs). Looking back, it’s interesting to me that Titan Quest is the only game where I’ve really wanted to play more than one character, the game really is broad enough to support it.

What I like most:

The thing that I like the most about Titan Quest is that the maps are not random. This may seem an odd thing, but the landscapes are simply stunning, and the game flows very well. In contrast to randomly generated maps, the environments suggest the “correct” way to go, so you can knowingly explore the area, or follow along, without just wandering. This also means that the colors are more striking than Diablo II – they have no need to hide inconsistencies in the landscapes, so they can provide a lot of contrast and color (a relief compared to the muted earth tones of Diablo II).

What I dislike the most:

My biggest gripe for this game is that… ..There’s no updated sequel! More please.

Torchlight II

Torchlight II is a fairly recent addition to my collection, and I have not yet played through it. So far, I have really enjoyed my dual-wand wielding Embermage, and the double-wand-wielding magic fun is quite entertaining. Another thing about Torchlight II is that it has a notably different art style – a bit cartoony for my tastes, but okay.

What I like most:

The thing that I like the most about Torchlight II is also the only thing that I really feel that it brings to the genre: sending your pet to town to sell stuff. This is a nice spin on looting, as you don’t have to continually run back to town when your inventory fills. It also had the nice bonus that all items were the same size, so you didn’t have to worry about big stuff filling your inventory.

What I dislike the most:

The skills in Torchlight II were the most disappointing part of this game. In particular, nearly all of the skills were active skills, so (since you were limited in the number of buttons on your mouse, and fingers you could have on the keyboard), this discouraged pumping skill points into a variety of skills. Also, there weren’t many skills to begin with (and you only got a single class), so, again, you couldn’t expect much variety. I think this is why the game got old for me quick…

Path of Exile

Path of Exile is very new to my collection, but so far I have been very impressed. I am playing a Templar (Yay! a Cleric!) that focuses on staves (Yay! staves that are actually bludgeoning weapons!)

What I like most:

The hands-down coolest thing about Path of Exile is the Skill Web. This is really interesting because each character starts at a particular point on a truly massive network of passive skills, and all skills are available to all characters (it is simply that some skills are more quickly reached than others). Since these are all passive skills, there’s plenty to explore without having to worry about some skills becoming obsolete.

With the Skill Web consisting solely of passive skills, all active skills are found in gems that you can socket into weapons, armor etc. These gems level up with your hero, so they consistently improve as you go. This also makes equipment less of a critical factor, and it can sometimes be worth taking an item with less of a bonus if it has the right combination of gem slots. Finally, unlike every other game I have played in this genre, you can freely remove gems from items and rearrange them at any time – no “destroy the item or the gem” tradeoff, just get the item/gem combination you want most.

What I dislike the most:

I think the thing that bothers me the most about this game is the return to muted earth tones. It certainly sets the mood of Wraeclast, but… …I could do with something with a bit more contrast.

Well, that’s it – a bit longer and later than intended, but there we are!

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